Is there a difference between training and learning?

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This free article by Derek Stockley defines the terms 'training' and 'learning'. The key differences are discussed and the implications for managers and team leaders are canvassed.

Two definitions - training and learning

I define 'training':

Training is the conscious and planned process of transferring knowledge, skills and attitudes to others.

The concept of transfer here is critical, as is the element of planning.

I define 'learning':

Learning is the processing and assimilation of what we hear, see or experience that alters or improves our knowledge, skills and attitudes.

The combination of knowledge, skills and attitudes is behaviour. If someone trains us, or we learn something new or different, it is our behaviour that is affected.

If our behaviour is changed, we have learnt something.

Training is active - it is conscious and planned - it does not just happen.

What is the best way to learn?

Should someone train us or should we go off and try to learn something new by ourselves?

In recent years, self-directed learning has gained increased attention. Some people felt that it was better for some people to 'discover' something rather than be taught.

I believe both learning and training are important. In this informal learning article*, I explained that about 70% of learning was informal. Informal learning is very helpful.

I probably have a bias, but I believe organisations should have a planned approach to the development of their people. If training needs are identified, they should be addressed in a timely manner. A well planned training event can do this, particularly if the trainer can identify the key issues to be addressed.

Training can save time. In a computer software training session, which is best: asking the trainer a question or looking for the answer in the software 'help' feature? (I do have a bias here - having recently installed some new software, I much preferred to ask the direct question. I find a lot of software 'help' features very unhelpful - the discovery learning process does not work all the time).

A good trainer can use discovery learning methods in a structured way. Time is the critical element. Learning should be maximised in the time available.

Too many organisations are relying too heavily on informal learning. Planned training can be more efficient and time effective.


Training is something you do. Learning is something that happens. Learning should be the major outcome of training. Sometimes having a trainer speeds up the learning process.

Training is successful if learning occurs. Changed behaviour in the workplace is essential if organisations are going to grow and develop. Planned training that relates to the current organisational direction can make a real difference.

Personal reflection

Do you have a personal training and development plan?

Do you place the right balance on training and learning?

Action items

From a business viewpoint, is your approach to training effective?

Should this issue be discussed at your next team and/or management meeting?

Related information

* The importance of informal learning - discusses the role of informal learning in the training and learning field.

The two main requirements for success as a trainer - comments on the two key things a successful trainer needs.

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Derek Stockley conducts public training courses in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and Perth, including a Public Train the Trainer Program.

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